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Shunned by Australia, Fiji looks to Asia

Shunned by Australia, Fiji looks to Asia

Fiji's new military-installed government will build alliances with China and other Asian nations after being shunned by Australia and other South Pacific neighbors for coming to power in a coup, the foreign minister said yesterday.
Fiji's tourist- and export-dependent economy has plummeted since a bloodless December 5 putsch and the damage was worsened by sanctions and diplomatic rebukes from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Europe and other Pacific island countries.
Military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama has defied international pressure to restore the elected government, and was sworn in Friday as prime minister. Eight ministers were sworn as Cabinet members yesterday, solidifying Bainimarama's grip on power after Fiji's fourth coup in 20 years. More posts were expected Tuesday.
New Foreign Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, a former army commander, said the new government would try to restore trade and diplomatic ties with its neighbors, but that it would also seek to strengthen ties with China and other Asian countries.
"We've gone north in the past on the other occasions and we will probably do the same this time," Nailatikau told reporters.
He said he expected ties with Australia, New Zealand and other South Pacific countries would eventually improve, and that their sanctions would not deter the new government's plans.
"That's part and parcel of this game," he said. "Those countries have the right to do that. We have to abide by it but at the same time, we will be talking to them and seeing what we can do about it."
Bainimarama has promised to call elections to restore democracy after cleaning up alleged corruption associated with the ousted government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.
The new attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, said no timeframe had been set for the elections, which would only go ahead after comprehensive electoral reform was undertaken, including redrawing district boundaries and a census.
"I think once all of that is mapped out than there will be a road map," Sayed-Khaiyum said.
Bainimarama selected a number of former government officials, military figures and high ranking indigenous chiefs to serve in his caretaker Cabinet.
Former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji's first ethnic Indian leader who was ousted during a nationalist coup in 2000, has been offered a position in Bainimarama's interim government, an online news site, Fiji Live, reported.